Back Like a Bear

How the Kosovo conflict sparked a Russian comeback
From the May 1999 Trumpet Print Edition

Over the past year the Western press has presented the world with a picture of an ailing Russia, its economy in tatters, its president on the brink of death, International Monetary Fund aid disappearing without trace, its foreign policy enfeebled—an impression that Russia is a basket case with no means of recovery evident in the foreseeable future.

But gullible Western journalists have forgotten one thing: the expertise of the Russians in manufacturing and perpetrating disinformation. All of a sudden, the Russians are back.

The ailing president Boris Yeltsin is seen in a serious role, rallying his government. An ex-kgb agent, Prime Minister Primakov has quietly stacked the deck of the Russian bureaucracy with old kgb die-hards. The missing imf billions turn up in off-shore accounts, earning huge sums of interest, the result of a giant Russian hoodwink of the world’s monetary aid fund. And lo and behold, the Russian generals, once disparate and divided as a result of failure of the government to pay their sorely tried troops, are suddenly united.

What happened? Kosovo!

Not only has the latest round in the Balkan wars, sparked initially by German recognition of Croatia and Slovenia eight years ago, united the military and government in Russia; for the first time since Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika, the Russian citizenry are uniting behind their government. They have found a common cause! A vehemently anti-West, anti-U.S. cause! Over 90 percent of Russians oppose nato’s air war in Yugoslavia.

Not only is the Kosovo debacle stirring the nationalist blood of the Russians, the extreme ineptness of U.S. foreign policy exponents deliberately moving to forge stronger ties between the West and ex-Soviet states in the Caucasus is adding much fuel to the fire. In particular, American-influenced nato initiatives encouraging Georgia and Azerbaijan to enter the nato camp have infuriated the Russians. In a reaction to Western incursion into the old Soviet front door, Russia has loaded neighboring Armenia with advanced S-300 surface-to-air missiles and mig 29 fighters, rattling its saber in a warning to Azerbaijan.

Cocking a snook at Russia, Azerbaijani President Edward Shevardnadze has announced plans to support a nato peacekeeping effort with a contingent of 50 soldiers as part of a Turkish unit, with the prospect of deployment in Kosovo.

Although there can be no denying the desire of the U.S. and Western foreign-policy formulators to influence the politics of the Caucasus, there is no doubt that U.S. oil interests are also playing a big part. Contracts to the tune of $2 billion are up for signature between Azerbaijani oil company Socar and U.S. companies Mobil and Exxon. Nato’s entanglement in the Caucasus also drew the Ukraine into a military exercise in April designed to prepare for the prospect of emergencies on the Baku-Sursa oil pipeline. The exercise was conducted under nato’s Partnership for Peace program.

The timing of the U.S. Administration and nato’s overt actions in these old Soviet states could hardly be more abysmal. Not only have nato’s relations with Russia been sundered by their ignoring Russia in the Kosovo equation, Russia is feeling increasingly boxed in by Western incursions into the Balkans—now extending right across the Polish plain to the Ukraine and south to the Caucasus. The Russian bear may be tempted to break out and retaliate against the American eagle.

Watch for the wild card in the pack—Germany—to conclude a future treaty with Russia—thus rendering the U.S. of no effect in European relations.